Americans, as many will admit, are perpetually overworked and invariably sedentary. Despite the endless options for getting in shape—gym memberships, trainers, Class Pass—doing so still remains as hard as ever.
Fitting in time for a workout between home-and-commute-and-job-and-commute-and-home is next to impossible as work hours extend, stress levels spike, and our daydreams all involve going back to sleep. And while there’s a plethora of apps to make you move more and worry less, choosing the right one can be so daunting that it just adds to the burden.
Never fear: Here we come with some of the best choices (as we recently did with food apps) recommended by health professionals and fitness experts—all of whom pledge they have no stake in any of the companies.
Apps for when you can’t make it to the gym
Sometimes you want to go to the gym but your schedule just doesn’t leave time for the schlep. These apps help you squeeze the exercise you need into the time you have.
- The 7 Minute Workout: Inspired by a 2013 news report on a study finding that high-intensity interval training can be as beneficial as longer endurance training, this app's workouts combine tried-and-true exercises like push-ups and sit-ups with helpful graphics, text, and video. And it’s hardly just for the neophytes unwilling to make the leap into a full club membership. “I use the workouts on the app to complement cardio activities in my routine, like running, biking, and swimming,” says Nancy Easton, a triathlete and executive director and co-founder of Wellness in the Schools, a national nonprofit focused on healthy eating and fitness for kids in public schools.
Sworkit: This app offers personalized video workouts varying in time (5 to 60 minutes) and routine (cardio, strength, yoga, or stretching). It even hooks up to your Spotify account to make exercising less painful. “This is the app I recommend for my clients when they travel and don’t have access to a gym,” says Amanda Edell, a personal trainer and online fitness coach based in New York City. “It’s very user-friendly,” says Michelle Liz, another fan of the app and a dietitian at the city's Lenox Hill Hospital. It’s “like having a personal trainer in your phone,” says Michelle Rivas, of TheHealthyLatina.com.
- YogaGlo: With more than 3,500 yoga workouts available in a variety of lengths and levels, the $17.99-per-month subscription to this app is significantly less than most studios will charge—and a lot more convenient. “I take YogaGlo with me wherever I travel, and having all the different class options helps ensure that no matter what I'm facing with work, I'll always have something dedicated to catering to my specific needs,” says Erika Nicole Kendall, a New York City-based trainer and writer of the blog A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. “Top of the line when it comes to online yoga,” says Andrew Tanner, a yoga teacher and chief ambassador of Yoga Alliance. “They just have some of the best teachers in the world.”
Apps for people who hate the gym
Gyms are hardly the only places for physical fitness. These apps cost less, require minimal commitment—and there are no grunting bodybuilders to worry about.
Endomondo: What’s the point of walking to work if you’re not going to get credit for all those steps? That’s where this app comes in, allowing users to track walks, runs, bike rides, and more than 40 other sports. “I'm a fan of simple and practical, and the Endomondo app is both for me,” says Sandria Washington, a certified yoga teacher and executive editor of BlackDoctor.org, an online health resource serving African Americans.
Zombies, Run!: Whether you’re training for the apocalypse or a marathon, this app ties in zombie-fleeing plots, complete with zombie groaning audio, to give your runs some added excitement. “The story line, the humor, and the interface often get me lacing up my shoes even on days where I'm dragging,” says Yoni Freedhoff, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa and author of The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How To Make Yours Work.
- Cody: This app provides access to a wide range of fitness videos led by world-class coaches and arranged into plans to help you meet your goals. Different plans come with different prices, but each one takes only a single payment for unlimited use. “What I love is that it brings an entire series focused on one targeted issue to your device,” says Kendall. “If I need to focus on stepping up my flexibility, I can get the guidance of an informed coach to walk me through a month or six weeks or however-long-practice to help me improve that specifically.”
Apps to help you achieve serenity now
- Headspace: This super-popular app will teach you how to meditate for just 10 minutes a day and has fans among celebrities and health professionals alike. But it’s not just for run-of-the-mill stress: It can be a good first step for those with bigger mental health problems, too. “Oftentimes patients do not want to admit or accept that they are suffering from depression or anxiety,” says Daniel Turner-Lloveras, a Los Angeles-based physician and founder of HealSwift, which connects patients with nearby health-care providers. “It is much easier to download an app and listen to a guided meditation on your own than it is for some to enter a room and admit to a stranger they are suffering and that they need help.”
- Buddhify: This meditation app is specifically focused on city dwellers, and is designed for on-the-go use. Whether you’re on your way to work, on a break, or even sleeping, this app has a guided mediation for you (think soothing voices). “Everyone needs coping strategies they can turn to automatically in times of stress,” says Mary Commerford, director of the Furman Counseling Center at Barnard College. She also recommends Meditation Oasis. “These two apps, practiced regularly, can improve the quality of a person's life.”